Image for The politics of family

Being the wife of a federal politician, with two young children, I am in a good position to reflect on the decision of Tasmania’s former Premier David Bartlett to stand down from his position. Like Andrew and I, he has two young children (although his are slightly older than ours) and a wife who has forfeited her career for a time in order to raise their children. And his job was a massive one. It wasn’t going to be easy on anyone.

Mr Bartlett, while pursuing something he found fulfilling and satisfying in many ways, would have felt guilt about the impact on his wife’s career as well as the impact on his young children, who needed their dad around. His wife Larissa might have been wondering how much longer her ambitions would have to be put on hold, and for how long she’d have to carry the significant responsibility of raising children almost on her own. The children, while often living enviably in the moment and being ok with the constancy of just a mum, were getting old enough to wonder just where dad goes for all of those hours every weekend and why he can’t just put the phone down and throw a ball around…

We’ll probably never know how much the negative opinion polls or dire predictions about the State’s finances weighed into Mr Bartlett’s decision. But I congratulate him for making his decision in large part for the sake of his family. Why? Because I can’t say how annoyed I feel when I watch politicians in their 50s retiring ‘to spend more time with their family’. What? When their children are at university and old enough to hold an intelligent conversation around a clean dinner table? What about spending time with them when they are throwing food, can’t go to the toilet on their own, object to every reasonable request? When chunks of every hour are spent picking up after their last activity just before they trash the next part of the house? When they seem simply uncivilisable and, as if to extinguish your very last wellspring of hope, seem incapable of comprehending just how much you love them even when you say (yet again), “No”.

Sorry, what these older retiring politicians usually mean when they say they want to spend more time with their family is either that they are about to lose preselection, or their seat, or they have had a better (read: better remunerated) offer. A pleasant by-product, rather than the real motive, is they can actually enjoy living and sitting around the dinner table with young human beings their partners and wives have civilised and trained for more than a decade.

As far as I know David Bartlett isn’t walking into any fancier position. Which means he’s really making a sacrifice, or at least stepping into the unknown, with his decision to stand down as Premier. Regardless of how you might regard his performance in that role, in a single act he has gone against the grain of Australian politics - where family typically comes second to politics.

For those of you who know I am married to Andrew Wilkie, Independent Member for Denison, please don’t read into this that I would like Andrew to retire for the sake of our family. A Premier has very different pressures to other members of Parliament. And every family will handle the peculiarities (and they are peculiar) of political life differently. But it is not easy on anyone. I wish David and Larissa Barlett and their children all the very best in their life post-Premiership (it will never be post-politics - once you’re in it, you’re always in it…).

Politics can be all-consuming if you let it be. During Andrew’s first week in Canberra he and the other newly-elected members were warned that federal politicians have a much higher separation rate than many other sections of the community. Just as other sectors of the workforce are getting behind the idea of the work-family balance, our federal and state politicians clearly need to get more serious about it too.

First published on Kate Burton’s blog, HERE

And, on The Drum Unleashed, HERE

• And, Simon de Little’s video farewell to David Bartlett ...

David Bartlett gets Angry!!

Watch on YouTube HERE